Emma Fenby (CFECFW),

December 16, 2019

Professor John Lynch

Hosted by: DHHS’s Centre for Evaluation and Research and CFECFW

Date: 30 October 2019                          Location: DHHS, Melbourne


Professor John Lynch is an epidemiologist and Professor of Public Health in the School of Population Health at the University of Adelaide. He is also Director of the Data Management and Analysis Centre (DMAC). The South Australian Early Childhood Data Project (ECDP) is one of the most comprehensive population-based research databases in Australia. It spans more than 30 different government administrative data sources and has been built over a number of years to include every birth cohort of South Australian children born from 1999-2013. The ECDP is used to inform research, service provision and policy around child health, development and human capability formation from the perinatal period into adolescence.

Presentation Overview

In this presentation, Professor John Lynch discussed the value of using linked data studies such as the ECDP to learn about how child protection systems are functioning, and how they could be improved.

The ECDP has found that in the South Australian population by age 10, around 25% of children (in a birth cohort of 20,000) will have had contact with child protection. Very similar proportions have been found across other Australian populations – this gives some sense of the scale of the demand currently on child protection systems. But data from the EDCP has also revealed potential routes to prevention, by using risk prediction to isolate priority populations that are particularly at risk of child protection involvement. However, any successful prevention work would require the use of truly effective interventions – and significant work needs to be done to develop a thorough program of evidence based interventions.

What we should have is a whole series of interventions that are integrated and supportive over time

(Lynch 2019, p.14)

Professor Lynch closes by stressing that we need to interrogate the type of evidence being produced by research studies. We need to see more research on the specific outcomes we want to see in child protection and out-of-home care – evidence ratings of programs aren’t very helpful unless you specify which outcomes they were positively affecting

Reflections from this session

Participant: Annabel Barbara, Project Officer – Information Sharing Reforms, CFECFW

Professor Lynch highlighted the value of existing data sets across multiple sectors to inform service and service system design.  It was enlightening to see a multitude of data sources captured and interpreted for individual clients.  What was most interesting was seeing the results of them tracked and integrated to follow the journey or path of children through the service system.

Professor Lynch stated that collecting and integrating data sets is only useful if we have resources to develop a service system response that prevents the stories (life experiences) the data captures. Professor Lynch’s use of data to inform Child Protection was to support the development of prevention strategies – what do we know that could help us prevent children and families from engaging with Child Protection?

He said he believed in practice-based evidence – not evidence based practice, further emphasising the ‘real life experiences’ that underpins the work being done in service system policy and design. His work demonstrated to me that we have enough evidence to suggest that the human service policy, funding and practice needs to change to give ‘early help’ to those who go on to become the most vulnerable children and families in our service system.

Resources for review

This presentation is provided in both video and transcript formats, courtesy of DHHS:

 Lynch, J. (2019). ‘Using data to inform child protection’. Melbourne: Department of Health and Human Resources.

An additional co-authored chapter on this topic can be accessed via the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:

Pilkington, R., et al. (2019). ‘An innovative linked data platform to improve the wellbeing of children— the South Australian Early Childhood Data Project’, in Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (ed.) Australia’s welfare 2019: data insights. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, pp 161-179.